- Associated Press - Sunday, January 30, 2011

CAIRO (AP) — The U.S. Embassy in Egypt on Sunday recommended that Americans leave the country as soon as possible, while other nations urged their nationals to avoid traveling to Cairo as days of protests descended into chaos, with looters roaming the streets and travelers stranded in the airport.

The Sunday-morning travel warning came as uncertainty mounted over how the demonstrations that have roiled the Arab world’s most populous nation will play out. Those questions, coupled with the growing lawlessness on the streets, have panicked Egyptians and foreigners alike. Thousands flocked to the airport, frantically trying to secure a dwindling number of available seats. Others hopped on private jets and made their escape.

The travel warning said the embassy will update Americans about departure assistance as soon as possible. Other nations — including China, France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Finland and Russia — have warned or advised their citizens against travel to Egypt, where protesters are demanding President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.

The United States has yet to send in any special flights, and the only American carrier with direct service to Cairo, Delta Air Lines, has suspended that service. Other nations, however, have flown in additional flights to evacuate their citizens as a growing number of commercial flights are either canceled, suspended or delayed because of a curfew that leaves only a few hours in which people can move freely around the city.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Jordan sent in over 15 flights in total to transport their nationals out of the country, an official at Cairo International Airport said, speaking on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to brief the media. Royal Jordanian and Bahrain’s Gulf Air switched to larger aircraft to accommodate more people.

Gulf Air Chief Executive Samer Majali said the carrier is in touch with officials in both Egypt and Bahrain and is prepared to put additional measures in place if necessary.

“As the national airline of the kingdom of Bahrain, it is our responsibility to ensure our Bahraini nationals are brought back home,” Mr. Majali said in a statement.

The protests largely have been centered on the main cities, including Cairo. The Red Sea resorts favored by European and Russian tourists have not been affected, though a growing number of tour companies are offering those who booked trips to Egypt either refunds or visits to other destinations as alternatives, without penalty.

The lawlessness and uncertainty, further fueled by the appearance of a mass exodus from Cairo, are likely to batter the tourism sector, whose revenues account for as much as 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

“We left behind a country with no order or security whatsoever,” Mehmet Buyukocak, who worked in Egypt for six years, told Turkish news channel NTV upon arriving at Istanbul’s airport. “People do as they wish. … The army does not interfere — they are just watching.”

“Even if Mubarak resigns, it will be chaos taking his place,” he said, adding that there are other Turks who said they will remain in Egypt. “I pray God helps them all.”

With questions abounding, the evacuations mounted.

Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency said the government is evacuating about 750 nationals from Egypt on three planes that are slated to arrive later in the evening, according to the Dogan news agency.

Azerbaijan sent an aircraft to evacuate many of its approximately 70 citizens in Egypt, including families of embassy staff and some staff. The decision followed the death of an embassy accountant on Saturday during the unrest, Foreign Ministry spokesman Elkhan Polukhov said.

And Iraq, no stranger to chaos, offered to evacuate its citizens stranded in Egypt.

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